REDMOND, Wash., May 24, 2004 — To succeed in business, companies must be able to execute in a crunch. And the time it takes information workers to capture, analyze, report on, publish, process, communicate and collaborate on data can make the difference between a big sale and a blown opportunity.
With the release of Information Bridge Framework, Microsoft aims to eliminate organizational inefficiencies such as reduced productivity, opportunity for error and loss of context with a set of tools and technologies that uses eXtended Markup Language (XML) and Web services to extend the Microsoft Office System. Rather then require information workers to learn new, specialized enterprise data management systems and toggle between multiple applications to perform daily business tasks, solutions built on Information Bridge Framework allow them to view and act on enterprise business data from within familiar Microsoft Office System programs such as Microsoft Office Word 2003, Microsoft Office Excel 2003 and Microsoft Office Outlook 2003.
When using a solution powered by Information Bridge Framework, information workers can take advantage of dynamic digital links established between company data stored in enterprise systems and Microsoft Office documents, removing the need to manually move or copy data between programs. Information Bridge Framework solutions are designed to provide real-time, direct connections to enterprise business information that workers can act on within Microsoft Office spreadsheets, Word documents and e-mail messages to make and implement decisions.
To hear more about Information Bridge Framework and how Microsoft hopes this and other innovations will continue to provide information workers with the data they need to make sound, timely business decisions, PressPass spoke with Parichay Saxena , General Manager, Information Worker New Markets.
PressPass: What is the Information Bridge Framework?
Saxena: The Microsoft Office Information Bridge Framework is an integrated set of tools, technologies and architectural guidance that uses XML and Web services to extend the Microsoft Office System. Once set up on a company’s network, it enables information workers to view and act on enterprise business data from within the familiar Microsoft Office System programs such as Microsoft Office Word 2003, Microsoft Office Excel 2003 and Microsoft Outlook 2003. What Information Bridge Framework does is connect information from line-of-business systems, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications from vendors like SAP or JD Edwards, to the familiar Microsoft Office experience.
When using a solution powered by Information Bridge Framework, information workers are no longer forced to manually move or copy data between programs but can establish dynamic links between the company’s enterprise data stores and their Office documents, including spreadsheets, Word documents, e-mail messages and forms. These documents contain real-time direct references to enterprise business objects that readers can act on within the document to make and implement decisions.
PressPass: Who is the audience for Information Bridge Framework?
Saxena: The primary audiences for Information Bridge Framework are developers and independent software vendors (ISVs). They can use the framework to quickly create and deploy flexible, custom solutions for Microsoft Office applications that adapt to an organization’s existing IT infrastructure and require little or no re-tooling of back-end systems. Ultimately however, it is information workers who benefit most from the Information Bridge Framework, as they can use these custom solutions to access enterprise information directly from Microsoft Office applications without having to visit multiple disparate systems to obtain critical data.
PressPass: How can the Information Bridge Framework increase worker productivity and organization efficiency?
Saxena: In an enterprise setting, key business information typically resides in large, backend databases and line-of-business applications such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), ERP, financial reporting, project management systems. However, the specialized front-end applications that enable users to interact with line-of-business applications are often complex, and the information they provide can be difficult to interpret because, as raw data, it lacks the necessary context to make it meaningful for decision-makers.
For many information workers, who spend a majority of their time using Microsoft Office System applications, dealing with these specialized enterprise applications to obtain key business data can be a significant challenge. Users must switch between applications, using one set of tools to locate the required data, and then copy, paste or re-key that data into the Microsoft Office application in which they can work with it in a meaningful fashion. This “application hopping” can introduce numerous organizational inefficiencies, including reduced productivity, opportunity for error, and loss of context.
When using a solution powered by the Information Bridge Framework, information workers are no longer forced to manually move or copy data between programs, but can establish dynamic links between the company’s enterprise data stores and their Office documents, including spreadsheets, Word documents and e-mail messages. These documents contain live, direct references to enterprise business objects that readers can act on within the document to make and implement decisions.
By providing information workers with the information they need to make sound, timely business decisions, Information Bridge Framework solutions built on the Microsoft Office System help make information workers more productive and organizations more agile.
PressPass: Can you provide a scenario of how an Information Bridge Framework solution might apply in a typical workplace?
Saxena: Say for instance that a customer e-mails a service rep about a problem with an order. In many offices, the representative would need to leave the Microsoft Office System applications she normally works in, and use one or more applications and manipulate a series of different user interfaces to research the problem. She may need to pull up customer history and contact information from a Customer Relationship Management solution, access order information from a sales and inventory solution and might want to pull up billing information from a financial application.
If the representative wants to escalate the customer issue to a manager, she would likely need to copy and paste – or even retype – information from each of these disparate sources into an e-mail or Word document. This introduces the potential for human error and requires extra time and effort, and the information gathered remains static, so this application-hopping effort must be repeated by the representative each time the data needs updated.
With an Information Bridge Framework- based solution in place, the representative could simply invoke an action from within an Office application to receive information from the backend systems. The solution gathers the requested information in real time from the enterprise systems using Web services and XML, then delivers the information in a custom user interface within an Office application, where a reference to live enterprise information can be selected and inserted into other applications. For instance, the reference could be copied from an Excel pane into an Outlook e-mail and sent to other information workers. Without leaving the familiar Office application, the recipient can simply click on a smart tag or Excel cell to open the same set of information. Depending on how an Information Bridge solution is written, the information can refresh automatically, keeping workers apprised of dynamic, changing data.
Information Bridge Framework solutions do not seek to replace or replicate the functionality of line-of-business enterprise systems. Rather, they are designed to work with these applications to expose the data, the views and the actions that they contain and present it to information workers in a more productive context.
PressPass: What is the technology behind Information Bridge Framework?
Saxena: The Information Bridge Framework architecture uses metadata to describe business entities, views, operations, user interface elements and the relationships between Web services,. Metadata is information or data that is created as line-of-business applications expose their assets as XML Web Services. After metadata is obtained from the Web services and imported into the Metadata Designer development tool, a developer can use the Metadata Designer to create an Office solution by stringing operations into actions and making these actions available for a specific document context.
On the desktop, because Microsoft Office applications are designed to directly interact with Web services, the Information Bridge client component can display the data returned by these Web services. The developer can associate custom user interface elements and menus that power the solution to the data and present it to the user through smart tags, attached schemas or the programmable task pane. The Information Bridge Framework client engine interprets the metadata and presents context specific actions, navigational elements, and information in Microsoft Office applications.
PressPass: How does Information Bridge Framework fit into the larger Microsoft strategy?
Saxena: Part of the Microsoft Office System vision focuses on better integration between documents and business processes, enabling information workers to interact much more seamlessly with the “islands of data” that exist around businesses. Information Bridge Framework directly supports this vision by allowing information workers to discover, engage, and act upon enterprise business objects — all within the context of the Microsoft Office System.